Pathogenesis and shedding of Usutu virus in juvenile chickens


Usutu virus (USUV; family: Flaviviridae, genus: Flavivirus), is an emerging zoonotic arbovirus that causes severe neuroinvasive disease in humans and has been implicated in the loss of breeding bird populations in Europe. USUV is maintained in an enzootic cycle between ornithophilic mosquitos and wild birds. As a member of the Japanese encephalitis serocomplex, USUV is closely related to West Nile virus (WNV) and St. Louis encephalitis virus (SLEV), both neuroinvasive arboviruses endemic in wild bird populations in the United States. An avian model for USUV is essential to understanding zoonotic transmission. Here we describe the first avian models of USUV infection with the development of viremia. Juvenile commercial ISA Brown chickens were susceptible to infection by multiple USUV strains with evidence of cardiac lesions. Juvenile chickens from two chicken lines selected for high (HAS) or low (LAS) antibody production against sheep red blood cells showed markedly different responses to USUV infection. Morbidity and mortality were observed in the LAS chickens, but not HAS chickens. LAS chickens had significantly higher viral titers in blood and other tissues, as well as oral secretions, and significantly lower development of neutralizing antibody responses compared to HAS chickens. Mathematical modelling of virus-host interactions showed that the viral clearance rate is a stronger mitigating factor for USUV viremia than neutralizing antibody response in this avian model. These chicken models provide a tool for further understanding USUV pathogenesis in birds and evaluating transmission dynamics between avian hosts and mosquito vectors.



Life Sciences & Biomedicine, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, Microbiology, Usutu virus, pathogenesis, avian model, juvenile chicken, virus-host interactions, 0605 Microbiology